Double Entendre & Innuendo in Much Ado About Nothing

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine William Shakespeare's use of double entendre and innuendo that make Much Ado about Nothing a somewhat risqué comedy. After learning some examples of these, you'll be able to test your knowledge with a quiz!

Background and Definitions

While many view the Peter, Paul, and Mary song, 'Puff the Magic Dragon' as a children's song, it's been widely speculated that it has another meaning. It's believed by some to be a song about smoking marijuana, which would make it an example of double entendre. A double entendre is the humorous use of a word that has both a traditional meaning and usually a lascivious or otherwise inappropriate definition. Often, one party is innocent of understanding the second meaning. Similarly, innuendo is a remark made with sexual or derogatory undertones, however in the case of innuendo, both parties are in on it. In William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing, much of the humor of this romantic comedy comes from double entendre and innuendo. Let's look at some examples from the play.

Double Entendre

The title of this play is actually an example of double entendre. During this time period, nothing would have been pronounced 'noting,' which means paying attention to something or making notes about something. This describes how the characters are paying attention to all of the wrong things. For example, Claudio takes note and acts out because he thinks Hero is cheating on him, but she isn't. The other definition of 'nothing' from that time would be slang for lady parts because she had 'no thing.' This double entendre would suggest that love relationships cause a lot of problems.

An old cover page of Much Ado About Nothing. Note the older style of English at play in the text in this image.
An older cover page of Much Ado About Nothing

Another double entendre is evident when Beatrice asks the messenger, 'I pray you, is Signor Mountanto returned from the wars or no?' She uses the nickname Signor Mountanto in reference to Benedick because the mountanto fencing move was used as slang during that time period for both social climbing and thrusting up sexually. As this language is often difficult to comprehend for modern audiences, actors will sometimes pronounce it like the words 'mount on to' so that everyone can appreciate this double entendre.

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